Why I Love People, But Hate “Networking”

I think we have a issue with objectifying people.

Not just sexually. Not just women. Not just in the media. All of those are problems, to be sure, but I think objectification is a problem that goes way beyond all that.

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A couple months ago, I was given a lesson on “networking.”  I learned I was supposed to fish for connections, to groom people into becoming opportunities. I was supposed to be nice to people for the sole purpose of achieving my personal goals. It all seemed really fake and icky.

(Can I use the word icky as an adult? Is that allowed?)

I tried to express this to a friend, who laughed at me because dude, you network all-the-freaking-time.  She was right, of course. I talk to people. I have a LinkedIn account, and I use it. I’m the queen of “let’s do coffee!”  But there was still something weird about how the word “networking” was being used in professional-land.

Isn’t that, like, making friends with an ulterior motive? Can I just get to know people? And maybe some of them will do cool stuff, and then I can learn about that cool stuff and maybe get involved with it, if it makes sense? Is there a word for that?

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Objectification means looking at people in terms of what they can do for you. For a service they can provide. For how they can help you reach your own goals.

So we “network.” We date. We care about people selectively–because they might be useful to us someday, because they fit into our personal narrative.  We greet people with expectations. We ask “who can you be to me?” instead of asking “who are you?”

And when we do that, we miss each other.  We miss each other on a human level, and it sucks.

We’re so busy trying to write our own story that we sometimes straight-up ignore people who might not fit into it, as though their stories don’t matter at all.  We hold onto our agendas so tightly that we forget to hold each other. If someone isn’t a potential employer, or a potential partner, or someone we can get the notes for next class from…why bother with them at all?

There is something very inauthentic about that.

So here I am. Trying desperately, desperately to approach all people as people.  Not opportunities. Not props in some story that I think I have control over.

Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s hella hard.  But I think it will be worth it.

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(Why This Article Is Not Called) “20 Ways to Be a Twenty-Something”

I’m a sucker for clicking on blog posts ordered into “lists.”

It’s so bad, you guys. I hardly ever like them. Those “how-to-be-twenty-something” lists from Thought Catalog are particularly tempting.  “Yes! A guru! Go ahead, stranger on the internet, tell me how to do this right!”

I know they capitalize on my insatiable desire for direction. I know these things are rarely entertaining, never mind enlightening. I know I’m being lazy, looking for life lessons in bite-sized, unemotional lists. I know all that, but I still give the articles a shot every time because–“What if they know something I don’t know?! What if they have the secret?!”

Unfortunately, the list-ers rarely  give me the shot back. They don’t leave room for another right answer. Lists are facts, rules, and deadlines. They are filled with fluffy and contradictory advice, seemingly thrown together by the same eighteen year old on ego-steriods:

Be vulnerable and emotionally available in everything…but don’t go falling in love or expressing your feeling, kiddies.  Get your shit together, and do it now…or tomorrow, tomorrow works too. Screw society…oh, but be gentle, you might need to use it later.

To save you the reading, I’ll sum ALL the articles up for you:

Build yourself, and be self-aware. Keep calm. Everything in moderation. Be good to people. Be good to yourself.

You’re welcome.

Outside of those pseudo-commandments, I’m beginning to think that there is very little deep advice that we can fit into lists like that. I also think that one-size-fits all advice is rarely a good call, especially in the twenty-something circuit. After all, this is the period in your life where you’re supposed to be learning how to question rules and step-by-step guides, not blindly march towards them. This is the time to realize how different everyone is, and how the same everyone is, and how relative everything is.

How do you list out the ideal reaction to any of that?

You don’t. You twist through your own complicated, beautiful story of “LET’S JUST TRY THIS.” Sometimes you will find friends to join you, even if it’s just for a night. Sometimes you’ll like them, sometimes you won’t. Sometimes you’ll like yourself, sometimes you won’t.

And sometimes it will work. And sometimes it won’t.

These lists try to make things logical, when they are not.  I think that’s what kills me. They try to sell us on the idea that there is a right and wrong way to do things, when there are about a million of both. The ambiguity of “twenty-something” territory is far better suited to awkward songwriting, 2 am storytime, uncomfortably honest prayers, and radically number-less blog posts.

So what, then, are lists good for? They certainly make sense for practical stuff. Studying tips. How to navigate University. Finding an apartment. Cleaning your kitchen. Planning a trip. Getting a job. Quick tips, man.

I have a few of those myself. Perhaps I will write a list some time.

But it won’t be a list that tells you how to feel about your life. It won’t be a list of premature “tips” which are really just jaded rants, personal regret, and #humblebrags.

(Unless the regret is genuinely practical.  Like, say, don’t go a year without glasses if you really need glasses. Or, don’t buy a shitty laptop.)

I hope that you can be a blogger without having to pretend you know everything–or worse, having to pretend you can put that “everything” into a list.  I hope imperfect people and listless lifestyles can fit into the conversation, because…well, because imperfect people and listless lifestyles are the definition of Conversation. And Conversation is what we really need, isn’t it?

Perhaps Sarah Bessey put it best:

I’m not too interested in telling anyone else how to live their lives anymore, let alone in six steps with a pinnable graphic.

Yeah. I’m not too interested in that, either. But I sure am interested in talking about it, and hearing about it, and writing about my tiny/young/fallible/idealistic corner of it. And maybe, sometimes, that will fit into a list.

But, mostly, my life isn’t about quick tips. Neither is yours. It’s about celebrating and mourning, sometimes at the same time. It’s about getting confused and getting the giggles. It’s the word “Oops,” and it’s the word “Love,” and it’s feeling unsure.

And I’m sorry, but there’s no number on any of that.

The Truth about Awareness

We don’t properly realize how things roll until they stop rolling that way…at least for a minute, at least long enough for us to gain perspective. I mean that in the simplest way possible. I never realized that most women’s washrooms were on the left until I accidentally walked into a poorly placed men’s washroom—twice. I didn’t know that my fingers automatically typed names of past friends (okay, more-than-friends) upon the first couple keystrokes, until I stopped needing to type those names. And who can blame me for thinking everyone everywhere would know what poutine is, or have the lyrics to “If I Had A Million Dollars” memorized?

(PS. Non-Canadian readers:  You should probably Google those cultural gems.)

My current life rolls along relatively untouched by too-soon death, something I didn’t really consider until these “Death & Grieving” articles came along. I shouldn’t be so surprised that reading all the articles made me feel so…aware. I also shouldn’t be so surprised that this awareness felt new.

But I was surprised. Caitlin Corbett (of “On Grieving”) and Niki Dignard (of “I am a Suicide Survivor”) are two of my go-to girls in Ottawa. Caitlin and a glass of wine. Niki and a new restaurant. We talk a lot, and we laugh a lot.  Sometimes their losses come up, and we talk about those.

So, how could I not know?  I mean really, really know what they had gone through. And what they were still going through.

Until they wrote it down, I’ll admit that I really didn’t.

The stories in the Taboo Tab hold a truth for everyone. For some, that truth is “Wow, I’m not alone.” For others (and for me) that truth is simply:  “Wow, there are people around me going through this stuff right now. [Insert prayers, love, and increased social consciousness here].”

Either way, we get to be aware of one another.  Awareness is a communicative art, one that we need to constantly work at. Why? Because awareness is AWESOME.

Eh? Eh?
Eh? Eh?

In my view, there should be two kinds of people present with any social issue you want to address: The storytellers, who have experienced an issue firsthand (aka the people who Know), and those who try to understand the stories (aka the people who Listen).

When it comes to loss, Caitlin and Niki are people who Know–and when things get rough, people who Know are the best.

Usually, when I talk about my own pain, I wind up trying to convince people that it’s actually really hilarious and I’m really, really “over it.”   These people who Know see right through that.

People who Know: The survivors, the brokenhearted, the vulnerable. The ones willing to let you be vulnerable right alongside them. The ones also willing to put you in your place, quietly reminding you of the could-be-worse.  They are more honest. Less judge-y. Keeping it real, because at this point, that’s really all they can do. And aware. So, so, so aware.

Me: “I have this loss. I have these feelings. I’m going to laugh/cry/be sick in front of you now, okay?”

People who Know: “LOSS? YES. Yes, that is horrible.  I Know. Chocolate? Hug? Awkwardly timed joke?”

They Know. They can comfort and relate to others who Know.  And by sharing their stories, they can help turn people who don’t Know into people who Listen…maybe, even people who Understand.

If the people who Know speak up, and if we let them–if we listen (unselectively), we share, and we try, try, try to “get it,” then we’ll know enough to build compassion and community. We will gain perspective. We will realize truths.

And that is the Truth about Awareness.  It is how we move forward together. Awareness is how we learn how to love each other better. And forgive each other better.

Read enough stories, meet enough people, ask enough questions, and realize: We’re all so different. But we’re all so, so, so the same.

– – –

Sex, Lies, and Storytime: “It’s okay, you’re not broken.”
Sex, Lies, and Storytime: “It’s okay, you’re not broken.”
Growing Up Without Direction: Yes, I Drink Coffee Now
Growing Up Without Direction: Yes, I Drink Coffee Now
The Taboo Tab: Death & Grieving
The Taboo Tab: Death & Grieving

Jealousy has a stage name. It’s called Inspiration.

I’m going to describe to you a hypothetical scenario.  (Just hypothetical, mind you. I am not admitting to anything.).

You check Facebook. You see a post from an old friend.  This post suggests that they’re doing cool stuff, and they’re doing it well. Yes, someone else’s life is awesome.

You’re a good person, of course, so your first thought is: Hey, that’s cool! Good for my friend!

(…except that it’s not.)

You start clicking through pictures.   They have really cool looking new friends (who, you assume, are way cooler than you). And they’re hot.  When did everyone get hot? When did everyone start doing cool stuff?  By this point, your friend has completely trumped anything hanging around your profile–three months worth of George Takei “shares” and one music video from the 90s, to be exact.  You look up.  You are surrounded by all the laundry you have to do, clutter on your desk, a bleak-seeming text messaging inbox, the way your hair is growing in funny.

In a few hours you might be happy for them–but right now, you’re busy being mediocre.

Dude. Stop.

Here’s the thing about jealousy.  Jealousy has a stage name.   It’s called inspiration.

I’ve learned this the hard way (okay, here comes the admitting part).  I have spent way too much energy wanting/waiting/wishing/generally being useless.  I think a lot of people have.  It’s easy to become defeated when you see other people doing cool things.  To pick a totally random example (Judi), you could see a picture of an old friend tobogganing down volcanoes in Nicaragua (Judi).  At that point, it’s very easy to say “Well, I’m not in Nicaragua.”  It’s easy to feel a little bit smaller than you did a second ago, to just move on with your day.

But what if you were to take that pang of ‘This is something I find awesome.  Noted.’  and turn it into motivation?  You could add to your bucket listYou could surround yourself with people who live amazing lives.  You could learn from them.

Every year, I have the same overarching goal:  to make next year’s Me someone that this year’s Me would crumble in jealousy of…or at least dread going up against in a job interview.  I couldn’t even go about that without my jealousies-turned-inspirations.  The fact is, I would not be in Washington DC right now if someone (Judi) didn’t offer so many envy-inciting stories about interesting jobs in new places. And I wouldn’t even be writing this had I not been struck with admiration(-cum-jealousy) after seeing other women’s mega-blogs this summer.

“Maybe I could do that. Right? Maybe?  I don’t know.”

There was literally one way to find out. Just one.

Jealousy may be ugly, but inspiration is beautiful.  Is someone else is trying new things? Noted. We should also go try new things.  Did someone else accomplish something big? Noted.  Let’s go start something big.  Do you wish your butt looked even half that good in a pair of skinny jeans?

…yeah, me too.

Skinny jeans aside, we have a choice every day (cliche alert) to get bitter, or get better.  I’m gonna try to be on team “get better.”

Who’s in?